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Ceylon Independencebill

Volume 152: debated on Thursday 4 December 1947

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5.6 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

My Lords, it is an exceptionally agreeable experience for me to commend to your Lordships a Bill which I believe will receive the same unanimous benediction as the one with which we have just been dealing. Further than that, I should like to say that personally it is a source of real satisfaction to know that twice in the same week one has been privileged to bring before the House measures which denote great advances by two different members of our Commonwealth—namely, New Zealand on Tuesday and Ceylon to-day. I should like to say how sorry I am that my noble friend Viscount Hall, as a former Colonial Secretary, is not able, owing to sickness, to take charge of this Bill to-day, but I count myself fortunate in being able to do so in his stead.

As your Lordships know, it has been the aim of British policy for a long time past to develop self-government in the different territories for which we have been responsible. It is a peculiar feature, I think, of the British genius that we have been able to do so and, at the same time, to keep in step with the development of national sentiment which has grown up all over the world and so to adjust our measures as to get the best of that characteristic growth. In looking at this subject, I reminded myself of something that Lord Balfour said some years ago about the British Commonwealth which I think is particularly appropriate to this Bill and to to-day—namely, that in the British Commonwealth free institutions are its life blood and free co-operation is its instrument. That is a fine testimony to the development which we see marked in the Bill now before us.

Ceylon has had a long and loyal history as a part of our Colonial territories and, as the House knows well enough, stood loyally by us in two wars without any flinching. It is characteristic of the development which has taken place that now we have before us a Bill which provides for Ceylon self-government as a member of and as a Dominion in the British Commonwealth of Nations. It is right that one should take the opportunity to say, first, how much has been owed during the last 17 years to the results of the Donoughmore Commission. It was that Commission which first enabled the people of Ceylon to exercise a franchise in a corporate way, and this Bill is a great tribute to the development which that has led to since 1931. Then I think it is right—and I am glad to see that the noble Lord is present—that we should recognize the important share in this development which the noble Lord opposite, Lord Soulbury, is entitled to claim. His energies led to providing the basis upon which this scheme has been built, and I happen to know also that the noble Lord has contributed in no small measure to the negotiations that have been going on during the past 12 months or so, which have resulted in this agreement.

Now, therefore, we have in Ceylon a Parliament with its two chambers, with a Prime Minister responsible to it, and a Cabinet, and we shall have a Governor-General occupying a similar position to that which a Governor-General occupies in the other States of the Commonwealth. This is the first occasion in our history upon which a Colony, developing this system of self-government of its own accord, has deliberately sought to become a Dominion State in our Commonwealth. It is the first time that such a thing has occurred, but we hope and expect that it will not he the last. It is a very significant illustration, showing how British government promotes these developments in Colonial territories. One of the first acts of this Government has been to sign with Ceylon the three vital agreements which your Lordships will see referred to in the White Paper which has been issued. They were signed on the 12th of last month. I expect that noble Lords who are interested, at all events, have acquainted themselves with them.

We have, as I say, entered into three agreements with the Government of Ceylon. The first is with regard to defence. The Defence Agreement provides for mutual assistance for defence against external aggression, and also for protection of essential communications. I need hardly say that that very important agreement receives the hearty support of our fellow members of the Commonwealth, Australia and New Zealand, to whom those communications are of course so vital. Then the agreement provides that Ceylon will grant to His Majesty's Government necessary facilities, including the use of naval and air bases, military establishments, and so on. Finally, it is provided that His Majesty's Government shall continue to exercise control and jurisdiction over His Majesty's Forces stationed in Ceylon. As we are well aware, the lessons of the last war, indeed the very elements of strategy, indicate how vitally important this agreement is and may he in the near future.

There is a second agreement which is called the External Affairs Agreement, under which Ceylon is to follow in relation to external affairs the principles and practices of the other members of the Commonwealth, Those who, like the noble Lord opposite and myself, have had business of this kind to conduct, know what that means in the way of consultation, communications and association all the time. I know that my successor in office will welcome to the councils the High Commissioner of Ceylon when this is all established. Ceylon will have a High Commissioner in London, and we shall be similarly represented in Ceylon. There are other provisions which are entirely in line with the practices of the other members of the Commonwealth. Then there is another very important agreement which safeguards the interests of public officers, those who have been engaged in the service of Ceylon under our rule and who may now wish to be transferred. The agreement safeguards their salaries, their leaves, and their pensions. It provides for certain classes of officers special compensatory terms on the same basis as was agreed for officers who might wish to retire on the introduction of the 1946 Constitution. Other provisions I need not describe in detail. But the important and gratifying feature in connexion with this matter is that these three important agreements go hand in hand with this provision for independence, and they reflect the spirit, and temper, of the people in Ceylon.

There are various technical matters in the Bill which may be dealt with in Committee. I do not propose to detain your Lordships by going into them to-day. What this Bill does, in fact, is to establish self-government in Ceylon, Ceylon being a member of the British Commonwealth, and these important agreements are an essential concomitant of this advance. It would not be right if, before I sat down, I omitted to say that a good deal of this is due to the Prime Minister of Ceylon, Mr. Senanayake. I have had the opportunity of meeting him on many occasions, and the noble Lord, Lord Soulbury, has met him on very many more. I can certainly say that he stood out in my mind as obviously a leader. His readiness to compromise, his willingness to recognize the importance of safeguarding the interests of minorities, and the many other good qualities which he displayed, greatly contributed to the conclusion of these agreements.

Finally, though he is by way of being a colleague of mine, I think I can properly refer to the constant activity, the friendly disposition and the helpfulness of my colleague, the Colonial Secretary. He has taken, as we all know, a very active part in these negotiations over a period of many months. It so happened that by, shall we say, a charming accident, I happened myself to be in Colombo on the first day that the Parliament met there, and I was able to take part in a very interesting and refreshing tea party. It was very gratifying to find—though of course one expected it—the great good will which prevailed. I was very much impressed with the quality of the people with whom Mr. Senanayake had surrounded himself. Most of all, I think, all noble Lords who have been there must have been impressed by the situation of the place itself. The House of the Legislative Assembly is built on the edge of the ocean. It has as fine a setting, I should think, as any Parliament House in the world. It is, indeed, a beautiful place in a charming situation. On the evening that I was there, the light of the sun as it set over the sea was streaming into the Chambers of the Parliament House. I am sure we may all hope that that will symbolize the conditions which will be associated with the progress of self-government in Ceylon, and that the people of Ceylon will gradually realize to the full the ideals which animate the other members of the Commonwealth. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .—( Viscount Addison.)

5.18 p.m.

My Lords, it is my happy privilege, on behalf of the Conservative Peers in this House—and on this occasion none of them is in Opposition—to welcome this Bill and to bid it God speed. I join with the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, in regretting the absence of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, and still more the reason for his absence. Indeed, I know that nothing but serious ill-health would have kept him away on this occasion, which marks the consummation of so much excellent work on his part. But it is not unfitting, I think, that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, himself an old Dominions Secretary, should pilot this Bill and welcome a new Dominion. Perhaps, it is also not unfitting that an old Colonial Secretary should bid farewell and hail to an old Colony in supporting the Bill.

This is, indeed, a red letter day for Ceylon. If their hagiology permits of canonization, the people of Ceylon, I am sure, will name Lord Soulbury and his colleagues as patron saints of their island and their Constitution. They will also, I am equally sure, add to the number of the elect that wise and understanding governor, Sir Henry Moore, who has done so much to bring to fruition this Bill and the admirable agreements which accompany it. As the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has said, in peace and in war, over many years, Ceylon has been a loyal and a valued partner in the British Commonwealth. To-day, true to that tradition, Ceylon of her own free choice has affirmed her determination to take her full and her rightful place in the British Commonwealth. By this Bill we recognize her full Dominion status, a status so well defined by the Prime Minister of another Dominion as "Freedom with something added."

The Throne of Kandy, which by gracious gesture King George V returned to his people of Ceylon during the time I was Colonial Secretary, takes on a new significance of loyalty to his successor. We all welcome this Bill and I am sure that we shall all welcome equally the Defence Agreement which accompanies it. Ceylon is a vital link in Commonwealth communications and in Commonwealth defence, increasingly important as scientific and mechanical advances annihilate distance. That Agreement is vital and I hope that in the operation of that Agreement, which has been so freely and so gladly negotiated, the young men of Ceylon will have an opportunity of finding some place in the Defence Services of the Crown. As the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has said, not only is that Agreement of great importance to us here, but it is of equal importance to the Dominions of Australia and New Zealand, and to the territories of Malaya. All this makes the Commonwealth partnership very wide and very real.

The noble Viscount the Leader of the House said a word about minorities. I think the Government of Ceylon have been wise to preserve in the Constitution the provision for the rights of minorities. I am sure that nothing is further from the mind of that wise leader, the first Prime Minister, Mr. Senanayake, or any of his colleagues, than any idea of discrimination, and I would add my own tribute of respect and admiration, and indeed of longstanding friendship, to the new Prime Minister. It is fortunate for Ceylon that she is starting off on this maiden voyage with so wise a captain at the helm. I think the retention in the Constitution of this provision about the rights of minorities will give a sense of security and make easier the government of a mixed community. A majority owe a duty to the minority; that goes without saying. But the converse is also true. The minority have their duties as well as their rights, and in any community must play their part. We in this Old Country are ourselves something of an amalgam. Nine hundred years ago Briton and Norman and Saxon learned to dwell together in unity, and it is a proud and practical tradition of the British Commonwealth and Empire that many races can live together and advance and prosper in mutual interest and common loyalty. By this Statute the Mother of Parliaments and the oldest Dominion gives an affectionate and confident welcome to the newest Parliament and the youngest Dominion.

5.25 p.m.

My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Viscount Samuel, and on his behalf, I desire to join in the messages of welcome to Ceylon which have been so adequately expressed already. I am extremely glad that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, mentioned my noble friend the Earl of Donoughmore, who was Chairman in your Lordships' House and who led the first Commission that initiated this self-government. Those of your Lordships who know Lord Donoughmore know that he seldom touches anything without effecting an improvement. He has a peculiar felicity in a quiet way of dealing with many problems. As the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has said, Ceylon is one of our oldest Crown Colonies. We first acquired the sovereignty in 1802, not quite 150 years ago, and we are especially glad to see that after so long an experience of the benefits of association with this country, Ceylon should be one of the first large colonies to adopt the privileges of a Dominion within the Commonwealth. The Liberal Lords send their best wishes to Ceylon for its rapid future development under its new system of government.

5.27 p.m.

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I have listened with the most profound pleasure and satisfaction to the speech of the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, and I would add my congratulations to him and to his colleagues in the Government. I am only sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, is not present. I should like to pay my tribute to the notable contribution he has made during the handling of this matter. I would congratulate the Government not only on the vision they have shown, and the tact and skill they have displayed in handling these problems, but on the speed with which they have carried out their programme. The announcement of Ceylon's new status was made on June 18 last. The questions of defence, of foreign affairs and of the position of public officers had to be negotiated. The agreements resulting from these negotiations were signed on November II; and last week this Bill passed through the other place. I am sure that it will receive the warmest approval of your Lordships to-day so that in the course of a few days it may become an Act of Parliament.

I and my colleagues greatly appreciate the kind and generous references made to our work. The credit, of course, really belongs to the men who took the final decision and bear the final responsibility, because if anything had gone amiss the discredit would have been theirs. As the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has pointed out, Ceylon is the first Colonial non-European people to reach independence within the Commonwealth. This is a great experiment, and I have not the slightest doubt that the experiment will prove an outstanding success. We are not called upon to consider the prospects and problems of a backward and immature people. Your Lordships are now asked to assent to the emancipation of an ancient people, who were settled in their country long before the Romans occupied Great Britain; a people who have in the past enjoyed independent sovereignty, and who have for centuries known civilized rule; a people who are rightly proud of their history and who, for the last fifty years at least, have been intent on regaining the independence which their ancestors had lost, and are now firmly resolved to justify its recovery in the eyes of the whole world.

Intimate and friendly relations have lasted between ourselves and Ceylon for the last 150 years. Each of us has made notable contributions to the prosperity of the other, and our interests have been, are, and will be, inextricably interwoven. For a generation or more many of the political leaders in Ceylon have been educated in our country, and they have absorbed our political ideas. Before I went out to Ceylon I was warned by various friends of the danger of transplanting Western Parliamentary forms of government among an Eastern people; but they had already been transplanted, and had taken root. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House will bear me out when I say that the procedure in the Ceylon Parliament is practically identical with our own; they have the same practices, the same usages, and the same rules of order. I had only to close my eyes to imagine myself back in the House of Commons. The members of the Ceylon Parliament are intimately acquainted with our language, our laws, our literature, our history and our traditions. So in no sense are we imposing an alien Constitution on an inexperienced or reluctant people.

When the Sinhalese asked for responsible Government they meant a Government on our model; and nothing else. Ceylon's circumstances and problems are in a great many respects different from ours. Reference has been made, and rightly, to the minority problem. The Donoughmore Commission—to whose work I should like to pay a warm tribute—found the same problem. Like them, we did not find a homogeneous population; but neither did we, like Lord Durham, find "two nations warring within the bosom of a single State." Far from it. We became aware that the relations between the majorities and the minorities, especially between the Sinhalese majority and the Ceylon Tamils, had been, and still at times were, strained and acrimonious. Your Lordships are aware that there are some 6,500,000 people in Ceylon: 4,500,000 are Sinhalese—from the North, and Buddhists—and some 800,000 are Ceylon Tamils, who are Hindus and come from the South. Both groups have been settled in the island for over 2,000 years. There are about 700,000 Indian Tamils working on the estates, some 400,000 Moslems, descendants of the Arab traders, 30,000 burghers, descendants of the Dutch colonists, and 5,000 or 6,000 British people. It is by no means a homogeneous population.

Up to the General Election held in Ceylon last August the electoral results normally depended on racial or religious issues. For a long time in the previous Legislatures the ratio of representation has been five Sinhalese to one Tamil, much in the proportion of the population. When we were there we had many representations from the Ceylon Tamils to the effect that they were debarred and, so far as they could see, would for ever be debarred from an adequate share in the responsibility of the government of the country. They said they were subject to the perpetual domination of the Sinhalese, and they expressed to us grave misgivings at the approach of the complete transference of power and authority from neutral British hands. To meet those not unnatural apprehensions we recommended certain safeguards which, as the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, mentioned just now, are being retained in the new Order in Council. I am glad they are. We also recommended a Senate—and His Majesty's Government agreed with our recommendations—for we felt that the protection of minorities was an important and useful function of a Second Chamber.

I do not, however, place so much reliance on statutory safeguards or on the establishment of some particular institution as a protection for minorities as I do on the good sense and moderation, the tolerance and statesmanship, of the majority. In the long run that is the only real safeguard. Like my noble friend Viscount Swinton, I am absolutely convinced that the Sinhalese Government are making, and will make, the most earnest endeavours to secure the contentment and the welfare of the minorities in their country. They will do that not only in the interests of their country but because of the result of the recent General Election—if only from much narrower political interests and common political prudence—for the Party supporting the Government in Ceylon have not secured a majority over the other Parties combined.

As regards the recent General Election—which I understand was conducted in a most orderly fashion, and with great fairness—we pointed out in our Report, some two and a half years ago, that there were then definite indications of the growth of a Left Wing movement in the Island, disposed to concentrate more on political and economic than upon racial and religious issues, and already constituting a potential solvent of racial and religious solidarity. The result of the General Election showed that that diagnosis was not very wide of the mark. Of the ninety-five elected seats, twenty were won by exponents of an extreme Left Wing policy, and nineteen by Independents; the largest Party, consisting of forty-two, is led by the Prime Minister, Mr. Senanayake. The remainder of the House, I think, are Tamils. The Prime Minister, Mr. Senanayake, is a Sinhalese, but he has never thought of himself as a Sinhalese representative. I think he enjoys the trust, and indeed the affection, of all communities in the Island to a degree unprecedented in its history. In his newly-formed Cabinet two Portfolios have been given to Tamils, and one to a Moslem. So I think one may say with some confidence that the days of communal representation are numbered, and are giving place to a division on political and economic issues similar to that in this country.

That means that the stage is now set for the emergence of a Party system suitable to the constitutional forms of British Parliamentary government. I think I may register my approval of such a development without being suspected by your Lordships of any particularly extreme Left Wing sympathies. If I may quote a very short passage from our Report we said:
"… that communal representation, though superficially an attractive solution of racial differences and to some extent the line of least resistance, will be fatal to the emergence of that unquestioning sense of nationhood which is essential to the exercise of full self-government."
For those reasons, I think there are good grounds for hoping that the dissension between the minority and the majority, which admittedly there has been in the past, will disappear. There is every prospect of an integrated people no longer politically divided by racial and religious issues.

I would like to put before your Lordships a few other reasons for my confidence in the successful outcome of this experiment. The foundation of success lies in an educated population and in there being sufficient resources to provide the people with a reasonable standard of life. Those foundations are laid in Ceylon. Primary education has for some time been compulsory in the Island, but there are as yet nothing like enough schools. There are some first-rate secondary schools, but still too few, and an excellent and well-administered university. The urge for the increase of education in the Island is tremendous, and I know very well that the Government of Ceylon are making, and will make, every effort to meet it. They are well aware of the importance to the Island of a well-educated electorate. Expenditure on education in the last decade has trebled. Literacy is making notable progress. So far as I know, no other Far Eastern country has anything like such a high proportion of literate persons, although substantial illiteracy is still a serious handicap for a country which has enjoyed—thanks to the Donoughmore recommendations—adult suffrage for sixteen years.

There has been a notable advance in the social services. Hospitals and dispensaries are growing apace, and great efforts are being made to spread the knowledge and the practice of hygiene and sanitation. Substantial steps have been taken to promote social security, workmen's compensation, relief for the poor, factory legislation and so forth. Ceylon's resources, as your Lordships know, are mainly derived from agriculture, tea, rubber and copra. In the previous Legislature the present Prime Minister was the Minister of Agriculture, and thanks to his immense drive and energy his influence was felt in every direction in the island, in the expansion of land development, in land colonization, in experimental farms, in cattle breeding stations, in farm schools and, of course, in irrigation, which is one of the main problems. Also, thanks to him, the co-operative movement has been widely extended throughout the Island and has been an immense boon to the poorer section of the people. As regards finances, I need only tell your Lordships that the National Debt of Ceylon is just about equal to one year of her revenue.

I think your Lordships would appreciate a similar position in this country!

Before I sit down, may I say this? It is for the reasons that I have ventured to put before your Lordships, and with such great interest as we have in each other's prosperity, with such kindly, good-humoured, charming, and courteous people, with such natural resources and with leaders of proved experience, that I feel Ceylon can face the future under the happiest auspices. This is an historic occasion. It is a landmark in the development of the evolution of the British Empire, and it brings another step nearer what I believe to be the ultimate aim of British statesmanship—the fusion of Empire and Commonwealth. Ceylon is the first and will not, I feel sure, be the last of many other communities who will in due course attain the same independence under the Crown, until the British Empire becomes one vast family of self-governing States—to quote the Statute of Westminster:
"United by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations."
I feel it a very great privilege indeed to have been allowed to make some small contribution towards helping a friendly and loyal people towards the realization of their ideals.

My Lords, I am quite sure that there is nothing further required from me, after the support the Bill has received and the well deserved tributes which have been paid to those who have done so much to make this possible.

On Question, Bill read 2a , and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.